It’s time for world to ratify CTBT

Next year will mark 20 years since the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test Ban Treaty, which would ban any nuclear explosions conducted on and above Earth — in the atmosphere, underground, in outer space and underwater — was opened for signatures. However, the treaty has not yet entered into force because eight key countries have failed to ratify it.

The Conference on Facilitating the Entry into Force of the CTBT took place last week on the sidelines of the 70th session of the United Nations General Assembly, with Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and his counterpart from Kazakhstan, Erlan Idrissov, serving as co-chairs.

All of the countries concerned should take meaningful actions by paying attention to what the conference’s final declaration said: “We affirm that a universal and effectively verifiable Treaty constitutes a fundamental instrument in the field of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation.”

One encouraging sign coming out of the meeting was a declaration by China, one of the eight key countries, that it is making active and continuous efforts to push the ratification procedure. The other seven — the United States, Israel, Iran, Egypt, India, Pakistan and North Korea — should follow China’s example. At the same time, other countries should make multi-layered diplomatic efforts to accelerate moves toward the CTBT’s goal under the prevailing circumstances.

The treaty, aimed at establishing a verifiable global ban on tests of all types of nuclear explosives, has been signed by 183 countries and ratified by 164 of them. For the treaty to take effect, the 44 countries that have nuclear reactors for research or power generation must sign and ratify it. Of these, the eight countries already cited have not yet ratified the treaty.

At last week’s conference, Kishida, who as a Diet member represents a district in Hiroshima, referred to this year’s 70th anniversary of the atomic bombings of his city and Nagasaki and the suffering experienced by nuclear-bomb survivors in underling Japan’s historical role and obligation to work with the international community to ban nuclear weapons and tests.

For its part, Kazakhstan has suffered radiation damage from more than 450 nuclear tests carried out in its territory by the Soviet Union and is serious about nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation. Idrissov said: “Its (the CTBT’s) entry into force will become an important step forward on the road to a world free of nuclear weapons. Kazakhstan intends to make substantial progress in this important work.”

Even though the treaty has not come into force, there are at least two areas in which Japan and other parties to the CTBT can work to help achieve its goal. One is strengthening the International Monitoring System, which is already under operation as part of the CTBT’s verification regime. The IMS is designed to detect any nuclear explosion conducted anywhere on Earth. By utilizing advanced technology, seismic, hydroacoustic and infrasound monitoring stations detect nuclear explosions underground, in the oceans and in the atmosphere, respectively, while radionuclide monitoring stations detect radioactive substances released by atmospheric nuclear explosions or vented by underground or underwater blasts.

Eventually, the IMS will consist of 321 monitoring stations and 16 laboratories in 89 countries around the world. Currently more than 280 facilities are in place. Since North Korea has hinted that it will carry out a nuclear test in the near future following the ones in 2006, 2009 and 2013, strengthening the IMS makes sense even from the viewpoint of enhancing security for Japan and other countries in East Asia.

According to Lassina Zerbo, executive secretary of the Preparatory Commission of the CTBT Organization, his organization and China are making preparations for operation of a monitoring station in the country. It is also calling on Iran, which has recently reached a nuclear deal framework agreement with world powers, to offer monitoring-related data.

It will be important for the international community to support the commission’s activities as well as to prompt the countries that have not ratified the CTBT to accept establishment and operation of monitoring stations in their territories.

The other area is working out concrete measures designed to solidify the existing moratorium on nuclear test explosions, which all the countries possessing nuclear weapons except North Korea have observed since the 1990s. During the 25th U.N. Conference on Disarmament Issues held in Hiroshima this summer, the participants discussed ways to perpetuate the moratorium.

Besides the moves in these areas, the most important efforts are diplomatic initiatives by the international community to have the U.S. ratify the CTBT at soon as possible. Although the Republican Party, which controls the Congress, is opposed, ratification by the U.S. could help change the behavior of China, Iran, Israel and Egypt in a positive way, thus increasing impetus for the treaty’s entering into force.

It is time for Japan to cooperate with other countries to lobby for ratification by the U.S., hopefully while President Barack Obama, who in his April 2009 speech in Prague said that his country “will take concrete steps toward a world without nuclear weapons,” is in office. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe should make serious efforts toward the CTBT’s early entry into force, which would also help halt nuclear weapons buildups by China and North Korea.